The people I know didn’t like shorthand as a tool

Recently I’ve talked with a few people about the shorthand they studied in school. I’ve been interested in their responses.

One woman, in her 50s, studied shorthand in high school and hated it; she thought it strange.

Another woman, now in her 80s, studied shorthand and actually trained to teach it; she did her student teaching in a shorthand classroom (though she wasn’t very good at it). She had nothing good to say about shorthand.

I also spoke to my cousin, whose mother, who would now be about 90, studied shorthand as a teenager. She then worked as a secretary to a county judge for a number of years. I understand that she used shorthand on the job, but no one ever observed her using it in her personal life.

I guess this is a common opinion, or there would still be lots of older people around who studied shorthand as a young person and never stopped using it! As I’ve said before, I’ve only observed one person writing shorthand in real life, a school secretary who was still using it in the early 90s. But since I think it’s a brilliant system, it’s disappointing to me to believe that it worked out so poorly for so many people.

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  1. In the studying of any subject, you will find a group of people that do not like it. Ask around how many people liked learning French or algebra in high school, and you'll probably get a similar reaction.

    The woman in her 50s more than likely studied S90, so she's excused, :-). The other two ladies maybe had a bad experience when learning; shorthand teachers had the reputation of being very strict!

  2. I graduated in 1983 and for whatever reason, our school was still using DJS. I loved shorthand because it was like a secret code or something. My friend and I continued to use it after high school, but neither of us used it on the job.   We both used it for a few years after high school for note taking at lectures, etc. I don't know if she still uses it because I lost touch with her.

    Two close friends where I live now both studied it. One used it for quite a few years for note taking at Bible classes, etc. as an adult. I'm not sure why she stopped, although she said she can still read it. The other one never stopped. She still uses it all the time. 

    The reason I stopped was because I only took one year, and started forgetting a lot of the shortcuts–brief forms and some of the word endings or beginnings.  Not having a book or the internet, I had no way to look them up.  I think if I had taken it a second year, it would have been more impressed on my mind, but I had other classes I needed to take before my senior year (which was a work-study program year.)

    If I had had the textbook, I'm sure I would have continued using shorthand, but once you start forgetting things, it slows you down too much to be worth it.

  3. Prior to WW2, I was interested in shorthand as my mother was a highly skilled Pitman writer and I started to learn the complex system of thick and thin strokes, positioned on or above the line.

         In 1940, during the ‘phoney war’, I had the opportunity of renewing my studies but was disappointed to find that the system was called Gregg―substantially different from Pitman. It was a light-line orthography that looked like Arabic written in the reverse direction. Nevertheless, I was hooked because I was writing sentences after only one session.

    After a few weeks, the instructor left, having been posted to more urgent business on the Continent. I said I would take the class and used to keep ahead of them by studying and expanding my Gregg knowledge a week or two ahead of the group. I had to field many questions explaining that the points raised, such as how to insert an ‘r’ or ‘w’ in the middle of a word, would be dealt with in a later session. If there is one thing of real value I have learned in life, it is if you want to master a topic thoroughly, teach it to others.

         These days I supervise globally-located mature students’ doctoral dissertations and in May, decided to re-learn Gregg. I know the date because since then, every page of my Filofax is adorned with Gregg outlines.

  4. Most people who took shorthand in high school or college, back in the days when it was still offered as part of the curriculum, saw it as a necessary tool to get a job, or as a stepping stone to move on to something else.  It was never presented as something interesting to study, and really never presented as something people could use in their daily lives, in spite of Dr. Gregg's dream that shorthand would be seen that way.

    I think many of the high school and college "business teachers" who taugh shorthand probably weren't the most inspiring teachers in the school, too.  I know my experience in the 1960s was like that–my shorthand teacher was grumpy and unpleasant, so it was a matter of learning in spite of her.  

    My dad majored in "Business" in college, in the 1940s, and he always said that his favorite classes and favorite teachers were in his shorthand courses.  So there were some positive classroom experiences for shorthand learners.

  5. My shorthand teacher was nice. We used the functional method which has some advantages, but I feel like I could have benefited from more instruction in the handwriting.

    The friend I was speaking about above–I asked her today why she stopped using shorthand, and she said she also slowly started to forget endings and brief forms.

    If I could do it over, I would have kept a shorthand diary from the beginning. By using it every day, I probably wouldn't have forgotten it.

  6. In reply to Lisa: Gregg and Pitman were not entirely geographically divided. Some Gregg was taught in the UK, but the system didn't catch on very much there, while Pitman had a strong foothold established decades earlier. In the USA, Pitman and its variants were the most common systems until Gregg arrived. Gregg shorthand became the most common system here in the 20th century, but Pitman never completely lost ground. When I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois in the 1970s, our department's executive secretary was a Pitman writer.

  7. In regard to what Carlos said above: I think one reason students don't like algebra is that it is a rather exacting skill, and people often don't like to work hard to acquire skills. Shorthand is somewhat similar. If a student didn't practice enough to develop reasonable speed, then that student's shorthand was professionally useless. I believe that, in and of itself, was enough to turn many people off to shorthand.

  8. And here's my third post to this thread. I promise I'll stop after this one.

    A friend of mine, a woman who is now in her 90s, learned shorthand in school and worked for many years as a secretary. She claims not to like shorthand, but until her eyesight began to fail, she did use it in her daily life. She enjoys book clubs and intellectual lectures, and had a habit of taking notes at them and at church board meetings. Her notes were a mix of Gregg and longhand: Gregg for the easy words and longhand for the harder ones.

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